RATTIER, JEAN, fourth official executioner in Canada; b. c. 1650 in France; d. 21 May 1703 at the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec.
In 1666 he was a domestic at Trois-Rivières. There, on 6 Feb. 1672, he married Marie Rivière, who came from the small town of Le Cause, in the province of Saintonge. Five children were born of this marriage.
Jean Rattier settled at Saint-François-du-Lac on 28 Jan. 1676, where he took up farming. On 23 Oct. 1679 he was involved in a quarrel during which a girl was fatally injured. Held criminally responsible for this death, Jean Rattier was condemned at Trois-Rivières to be hanged. He appealed to the Conseil Souverain, which, on 31 Dec. 1680, confirmed the original sentence. But the executioner, Jacques Daigre, had just died, on 26 Mar. 1680 and no one had yet replaced him; besides, it was always difficult in Canada to find someone who was willing to act as executioner. The councillors therefore gave the criminal, Jean Rattier, the choice between waiting in prison until an executioner was found to hang him and accepting the office of hangman. Jean Rattier lost no time in accepting the position himself.
At that time Canadian society held in horror the person who exercised this ignoble office and considered all contact of any sort with the hangman and his family degrading; this explains why the new executioner had great difficulty in finding a dwelling for his family in Quebec. But he had scarcely moved into a house situated outside the town limits of Quebec, for he was not allowed to live within the town walls, when the inhabitants of Quebec began to take delight in approaching his dwelling to insult his wife and children. The Conseil Souverain was obliged to intervene. As a final blow, it was this same executioner who on 5 July 1695, in the public square of the Lower Town of Quebec, had to put his own wife, who had been found guilty of receiving and concealing, in the pillory. Subsequently he continued until his death to carry out sentences of corporal punishment on criminals without any other troublesome incidents.
His youngest son, Pierre (baptized 9 July 1680 at Trois-Rivières), settled for good in Canada after having entertained the idea in 1703 of leaving the country for New England. In 1704 he married Catherine Rousseau, who came from Les Sables d’Olonne in Poitou. They had seven children. Pierre Rattier succeeded in supporting his family by hiring out as a day-labourer to different employers in the region of Quebec. Rattier did not however content himself with the salary which his employers gave him; he stole various tools and materials from them. For this reason he was in prison in 1710, accused along with his wife of these thefts and of some others that he had committed in company with the hangman Jacques Élie. The Conseil Souverain then offered to acquit him of the crimes of which he and his wife had been accused if he agreed to fulfil the office of executioner, since Jacques Élie had been murdered. Rattier accepted and became the sixth official executioner in Canada; like his father, he exercised the office of hangman until his death, 21 Aug. 1723, at the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec.
AHDQ, Registres des malades, 1698–1709, 1709–22, 1723–39. AJQ, Registre d’état civil de Notre-Dame de Québec. AJTR, Registre d’état civil de Trois-Rivières. AQ, NF, Coll. de pièces jud. et not., 251; NF, Dossiers du Cons. sup., Mat. crim., III, 193ff.; NF, Registres de la Prévôté de Québec, 43, 1ff. Jug. et délib., II, III, IV, VI. Recensements du Canada, 1666 (APQ Rapport), 1681 (Sulte). André Lachance, Le bourreau au Canada sous le régime français (SHQ, Cahiers d’histoire, XVIII, 1966), 63–66, 72–75. P.-G. Roy, “Les bourreaux de Québec sous le régime français,” BRH, XXIX (1923), 3–12.